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The Woman Problem & other prose

The Poet's Progress — Courage and Conflict

page 125

The Poet's Progress
Courage and Conflict

All great art is the outcome of an attempt to reconcile the outward world of necessity with the inward world of freedom. To be an artist, a man must have, in the first place, the power of self-expression in some art-form. If the struggle between inner and outer experiences never comes to a head, he will be a minor artist, purveying trivialities (asfor example, most of the poets and painters of today). The majority of men, indeed, are never called upon to face the conflict in any of its more acute forms, and to resolve the opposing forces of the spirit.

Education, as we know it, is an attempt to relieve the average man of the necessity of facing such overwhelming problems, by giving him ready-made answers. When doubts do begin to nibble at him, jazz, popular fiction, mob-sport and a hundred other things are ready at hand, to divert him from the more serious and unpleasant matter of saving his soul. All these things are popular in a world threatened alternately with war and pestilence on the one hand, and boredom on the other. For the many, the Lie is the condition of life. Existence on any other terms would mean swift destruction.

When, therefore, we come across a man who, through having more courage and honesty than the general run of people, deliberately encourages the conflict to take place in his mind regardless of the consequences, we must respect him. In no other way can any man discover what for him constitutes Truth; and the search for personal truth, in-page 126volving volving as it always does a great deal of suffering, must be reckoned a worthy enterprise.

These few sweeping generalities bring me to Mr Cresswell. Walter D'Arcy Cresswell is a young New Zealander who has done a considerable amount of wandering, geographical and spiritual. The record of his experiences is contained in a book he has just published, called, suitably enough, The Poet's Progress .

The question has, of course, once more arisen, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' To many of the subintelligentzia of this Dominion, including some of the book-reviewers, the answer would appear to be (permanently) 'No'. These people (or at any rate, such of them as have heard of her) are content to bask in the reflected glory of Katherine Mansfield. The notion that other New Zealanders may be capable of writing good books rarely occurs to them. I take this opportunity, therefore, of pointing out The Poet's Progress as a book of which we should be proud: and—unlike many other books of which we are proud—which we should read.

Mr Cresswell's outlook, and his manner of life, would perhaps arouse contempt and amusement among the inhabitants of such parts of the earth as the town of Zenith, U.S.A. But for those who place the life of the spirit above that of the flesh, and who know a good piece of writing when they see it, here is a book worthy of attention. It is written in the best English prose. To those whose palates have been corrupted by constant reading of journalese, it may appear precious. Not so. It has the true classical ring, and is as simple and direct as the fragment of Caesar's 'Invasion of Britain', which occurs at the front of the book.

Several sonnets are included. I quote one, for its Miltonic quality, and its perfection of form and content:

Now I in fear of going forth once more
After seven homeless years so sore maintained,
Take heart to hear how Dante was sustained
By counsels made in Heav'n, which to him bore
The upright shade of Virgil, leading forth
page 127 His earthly peer from that full-evil wood
Wherein the sharp-fanged she-wolf Avarice, stood
To stay him, and the Lion, Lust and Wrath.
Wherefore, I trust, whose mind is likewise bent
On high and truthful aims, the upward way
Through that same wilderness, for whom, as I,
Those terrors lurk, like Dante will be lent
The aid of Heav'n, since in this evil day
He walks alone, and no example nigh.